Abbott, Dharmacon target needs unmet by traditional discovery efforts

Abbott and Dharmacon Inc. have entered into a collaboration to develop new therapeutic agents based on RNAi.

Jeffrey Bouley
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ABBOTT PARK, Ill.—In a move to extend drug dis­covery efforts for their com­panies into disease targets where traditional discov­ery technologies have not been successful, Abbott and Dharmacon Inc., a unit of Fisher Biosciences, have entered into a collaboration to develop new therapeutic agents based on RNAi.
"Joining forces with RNAi pioneer Dharmacon to develop drug candidates that harness the clinical poten­tial of this revolutionary technology fits our strategy to extend Abbott's portfolio with novel therapies in areas of high unmet need," said Dr. Stephen Fesik, divisional vice president for cancer research at Abbott, in a news release about the deal.
During the collabora­tion, the companies will work to identify therapeu­tic short-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) for multiple thera­peutic areas, initially focus­ing on oncology. Lafayette, Colo.-based Dharmacon will employ its proprietary siRNA chemistries, SMARTselection and SMARTpool technol­ogies, and its specificity-enhancing design modifications to optimize siRNAs for thera­peutic use. Abbott will manage the drug dis­covery and development process and will be responsible for commercialization of prod­ucts that result from the collaboration. The companies did not release the exact financial terms of the deal.
Although cancer is the initial focus, that could change as time goes on, says Dr. Bill Kohlbrenner, director of cancer research in Abbott's drug discovery area and head of the therapeutic siRNA group at Abbott, the group collaborating directly with Dharmacon.
"If the program is successful, and depend­ing on what information we uncover by deploying this technology in oncology, we may find opportunities in other therapeutic areas," he says.

Abbott has worked with Dharmacon in the past as part of efforts to be an "early mover" in using RNA technologies for tar­get validations, Kohlbrenner says. Having already established that the two companies had complementary styles, it made sense to work with them on this effort.
Much of what Dharmacon will do for its part of the work is to use its expertise in pre­dicting potential off-target effects of candi­dates and to profile their specificity. Then the company will make the molecules more drug-like, as well as develop novel delivery technologies to deliver siRNAs into various tissues, according to Dr. William S. Marshall, group vice president of technology and busi­ness development for Dharmacon's parent company, Fisher Biosciences.
"Dharmacon's focus has been understand­ing the very fundamentals of RNAi technol­ogy, so we bring a unique and critical set of skills to the table that will be needed to move this technology from being just a tool to an actual therapeutic agent," Marshall says. "The key thing is [to go] after non-druggable targets. We hope to use siRNAs to knock out or knock down those targets and lead to big therapeutic benefits."

Jeffrey Bouley

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